four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
12-Sept-Oct-2004
By: 
Ward Just
user_rating: 
0

A Novel

A-UnfinsihedSeasonAn Unfinished Season captures the gritty side of 1950s Chicago, stripped of "Father Knows Best" and Donna Reed whitewashing. Instead, it introduces a city defined by rabid anticommunism, worker unrest, and government corruption. On Chicago’s North Shore, 19-year-old Wilson Ravan (Wils), working as a cub reporter, finds himself caught up in his father’s struggles against a strike and death threats from union members. At night, Wils jumps sides to ritzy North Shore parties. But the growing unrest between his parents at home mirrors the tensions brewing within Chicago and those from the looming Cold War. His worlds collide when he falls in love with the strong-willed daughter of a wealthy psychiatrist … with a mysterious past.
Houghton Mifflin. 251 pages. $24. ISBN: 0618036695

Washington Post 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Whether it is actually his best novel can be debated—I have a soft spot for A Family Trust (1978)—but there can be no doubt that it is on all counts a splendid piece of work: leisurely in pace and meditative in tone, as is much of Just’s writing, but also emotionally freighted, witty and sophisticated, and powerfully evocative of both the time (the early 1950s) and the place (Chicago) in which it is set. … A beautiful, wise book." Jonathan Yardley

Baltimore Sun 4 of 5 Stars
"So, whether by design (as a kind of über fiction) or just a lucky accident, An Unfinished Season is all the more compelling since it suggests not only a story, but the troubled, passionate and truth-seeking man who wrote it. In a nutshell, the book reminds me of a phrase in one of Camus’ notebooks, which is just this, ‘a wild longing for clarity.’" Craig Nova

Chicago Sun-Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Any fan of Just’s work will recognize some familiar themes in An Unfinished Season the close but contentious relationship between fathers and sons, the nature of political power, the different perspectives that make up a place’s emotional geography. … You have to go back to Graham Greene to find a writer so adept at doing it in a variety of locales, and Season is another reminder that Just quietly resides among the A-list of living writers." Mark Athitakis

Chicago Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"This is Ward Just’s 14th novel, and it couldn’t be more ravishingly atmospheric in its subtle evocation of the contrast between the good life of the wealthy and powerful and the grim realities of the poor and voiceless. Nor could the novel be more penetrating in its understanding of the vagaries of memory, the weight of secrets kept and the consequences of stories irresponsibly told." Donna Seaman

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"[T]his well-constructed narrative subtly voices wise insights on such disparate topics as father-son relationships, romantic love, social-economic class barriers and suicide. … Critics have likened Just’s fiction to that of Edith Wharton and Henry James, a comparison he richly deserves." Katherine Bailey

San Jose Mercury News 4 of 5 Stars
"In this novel, he ranges from the cool, Fitzgerald-like irony of his portrayal of the debutante scene to the gritty depiction of a weary, cynical old-time newsroom—The Front Page without the glib and tailored wisecracks of Hecht and MacArthur. And in every scene he populates our imaginations with real people who have important things to say about the way we live." Charles Matthews

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Questions of class warfare, generational conflict, social conformity and the openness of reality to a variety of interpretations all come into play here. … The result is one of Just’s finest novels." Michael Upchurch

Critical Summary

Just, a highly respected novelist, playwright, and former reporter (Echo House, A Soldier of the Revolution, A Dangerous Friend…), has been praised for his astute sociological and psychological insights. In An Unfinished Season, he tears away the layers of false memory attached to the 1950s and reminds readers what a turbulent decade really felt like. Wils is more than the star of a complex coming-of-age story; Season elegantly chronicles his relationship with his family and the larger, complex world around him. Just deftly handles the diverse subjects of romance, parent-child relationships, class conflict, labor struggles, and suicide. An Unfinished Season is Just’s 14th novel, certainly his most biting—and perhaps among his best—yet.